Senior woman at odds with Kent Police over her arrest; police say case handled correctly

Lynn Pittier wants other elderly drivers to know about her experience with Kent Police that she said left her "humiliated." Pittier, 65, of Burien, believes police went too far when they handcuffed her and arrested her Aug. 23 for investigation of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Police initially pulled her over along Pacific Highway South for using her high beams and driving too slowly.

Lynn Pittier reenacts her field sobriety test Nov. 2 outside the Southcenter Red Robin in Tukwila

Lynn Pittier reenacts her field sobriety test Nov. 2 outside the Southcenter Red Robin in Tukwila

Lynn Pittier wants other elderly drivers to know about her experience with Kent Police that she said left her “humiliated.”

Pittier, 65, of Burien, believes police went too far when they handcuffed her and arrested her Aug. 23 for investigation of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Police initially pulled her over along Pacific Highway South for using her high beams and driving too slowly.

“I want to warn every elderly person they need to be careful of the police so they don’t do the dumb things I did,” Pittier said Nov. 2. “I was so flustered.”

Kent Police Lt. Tracey Gurr, who oversees traffic patrol crews, said Joel Makings, the officer involved in Pittier’s case on Aug. 23, handled everything correctly. The officer released Pittier after about 2 1/2 hours and dropped the DUI charge. She registered .000 on a breath analysis test for blood alcohol content at the city jail processing area after reportedly failing earlier field-sobriety tests outside her car, where she had been pulled over.

“I’m sorry if we did anything to make her life harder, but the officer didn’t do anything wrong,” said Gurr, speaking on behalf of Makings.

Pittier, a retired nurse who helps care for her parents as well as an ill husband and brother, said she doesn’t have the money to file any type of lawsuit against the Kent Police. Pittier said she contacted the Kent Reporter by e-mail to let others know about the incident.

“(Police) profiled a scared, humiliated and ill woman,” Pittier said. “They could not discriminate a frightened person from a drug-crazed individual. Please help me and other ladies leaving meetings at night. Everyone I talk to is horrified and wary of police.”

Pittier said she plans to contact the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Association of Retired Persons to lodge a complaint. So far, she has not taken that step.

Jennifer Shaw, ACLU of Washington deputy director, said Tuesday that her office has not heard about any issue involving police agencies and elderly drivers.

“I’m not aware of us getting any complaints from older drivers who feel they have been treated differently,” Shaw said.

If the ACLU gets complaints, it does investigate, she noted.

Jason Erskine, media spokesman for the AARP of Washington, said his office had not heard any complaints about how police treat elderly drivers. AARP does offer driver safety courses for people to review and update driving skills, but Erskine said the course does not deal specifically with driver interactions with police.

Pittier said she came forward about her incident with police because she was worried other drivers who have had similar experiences might not.

“Many people out there will not come forward because they are so humiliated,” Pittier said.

The incident began the night of Aug. 23, after Pittier left a friend’s home on the West Hill where she had attended a Daughters of the American Revolution meeting. Pittier said she left the meeting early because she had heartburn and wasn’t feeling well.

At about 8:57 p.m., Makings was on patrol and saw a Lexus traveling west on South 260th Street with its high beams on. He watched as the driver turned north onto Pacific Highway South and traveled approximately 30 mph in a 45 mph zone. He activated his emergency lights, but the vehicle kept going at the same speed. He then activated his siren and the vehicle pulled over in the 25100 block of Pacific Highway South.

“His police lights were on immediately and I thought he was after someone else,” Pittier said.

The officer saw the indicators that could mean an impaired driver, Gurr said.

“The high beams and driving too slow are signs,” Gurr said. “A drunk will often drive slower and also not pull over right away.”

According to Makings’ report, he initially walked up to the passenger-side window of the car, where he said he saw Pittier fumbling through a bag and past her wallet. He said she then grabbed a prescription pill bottle and took a pill.

The officer then walked around to the driver’s side and asked Pittier to step out of the car and onto the sidewalk, which she did. Makings said she started to talk so fast that he could not understand her.

Pittier told the officer that she had taken a throat lozenge, not a prescription pill. She said she did carry medications with her. The officer decided to ask Pittier to try several field-sobriety tests, which she agreed to do.

The officer had Pittier balance on one leg, for one of the tests. He also asked her to walk along a straight line. Makings noted that Pittier had trouble following directions and doing the tests, so based on his training and experience he believed she was under the influence of some sort of drug.

“Her erratic behavior was similar to that of other narcotic users that I have had contact with in the past,” Makings wrote in the report.

Pittier explained during an interview with a reporter the reasons she had trouble with some of the field tests.

“I was afraid and I was more and more nervous,” she said. “Most of the women I know don’t even have my balance to hold a leg up or walk a straight line because we get flustered and nervous. And we all have memory deficits of one sort or another.”

Gurr said that Makings was “extremely patient” with Pittier, including waiting for a couple of minutes before he approached her driver’s side window.

“When we see someone older driving, we think there might be an alternative explanation,” Gurr said. “So he waited, but then she popped a pill and we can’t have that.”

The way Pittier responded to the field tests from what Gurr read in the report indicated something must be going on with her, he noted.

“It all renders to thinking there is intoxication or something,” Gurr said.

Pittier met with Gurr to talk about the incident, how she did not like how the officer handled the case and that she should not have been arrested. But Gurr disagreed.

“I told her I would have done the exact same thing,” Gurr said.

Pittier did not like that response.

“She did not listen to me,” Pittier said.

Gurr said she tried to explain to Pittier that if she did not feel well and experienced some type of medical condition, she should have told the officer.

“I told her if she gets pulled over again it’s critical to tell the officer if she is having a medical problem,” Gurr said. “If she was having chest pain, he would have called an aid car.”

Pittier didn’t think she needed medical attention from paramedics the night she was pulled over or that she should have been pulled over by police. She just wanted to drive home. Now she wants to know if other drivers have had similar experiences with police.

“If there are other women who begin to come forth with this pattern, the community should be aware,” Pittier said.


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